Joss the Seven (Guild of Sevens #1)

Title: Joss the Seven

Author: J. Philip Horne

Series: Guild of Sevens #1

Joss wasn’t expecting anything strange the day he found a note in his locker. But the note led to some experiments with entirely unexpected results. Joss has superpowers. And there’s a Guild of probably-good guys and an equally mysterious bunch called the Mockers who both want to control him. Or maybe just kill him. Either way, he’s in over his head . . .

I really liked this. The seven forms of superpowers are a lot of fun, and offer a lot of potential for mischief. Ghosting through solid objects is one of my favorites (shapeshifting would be my favorite, but that doesn’t come up much in this book). Joss is in some ways blinded by his own determination to learn, as he tries to soak up everything his parents might have known but never told him.

The pacing stays fast throughout. Joss careens from one adventure to the next, and the web around him grows more complicated. We don’t get a lot of answers here about the big picture, but that’s fine, as this is setting up for future mayhem.

Overall this is a fun, fast read. I am very curious where things will go from here on out. The Guild’s next move could change a lot of things. I rate this book Recommended.

Gryphon’s Eyrie (Witch World Series 2: High Hallack Cycle #7)

Title: Gryphon’s Eyrie

Author: Andre Norton

Series: Witch World Series 2: High Hallack Cycle #7

Kerovan and Joisan have survived numerous trials so far, but their journey isn’t over yet. A strange longing tugs at Kerovan–and he flees it. Joisan is determined to remain by his side, no matter what forces of might or magic might come against them. When they find their way to a tribe of nomads, both of them hope for peace. But their coming stirs up enmity . . .

One of the perils of picking up books on the clearance rack is that it is quite easy to get something like this, a book obviously well into a series (that had nothing on the cover indicating it wasn’t a standalone). So I haven’t read anything that comes before this, which might color my thoughts somewhat.

This was pretty tame, though, and I found it almost bland. The characters clearly have a great deal of history, but the exposition provides enough that although I never got attached, I never really got lost either. Kerovan fears his heritage as one touched by Powers from before his birth, one his mother hoped to bend to evil. Joisan, on the other hand, makes full use of what power she can summon, in her role as a healer.

There are no gryphons. This was annoying because I had been hoping, based on the title, to find one. Apparently there was one in a previous book but he does not show up here. The closest we get is a brief mention of a statue of a gryphon. I am still not entirely clear on this but I think the title is supposed to refer to Kerovan’s heritage and the home he finds through it.

Overall, this was a quick read, but not a memorable one. I rate this book Neutral.

Aster Wood and the Book of Leveling (Aster Wood #2)

Title: Aster Wood and the Book of Leveling

Author: J. B. Cantwell

Series: Aster Wood #2

Aster Wood’s quest to find the great wizard Almara—and a way to save Earth—has stalled out. He and Jade are heading to her home because neither of them can think of anything else. Hopefully Almara has left a clue of some kind. But what they find is both more and less than what they hoped . . .

This is a more internal book than the previous. There’s still a fair amount of death-defying escapades, but there’s a lot more reflection and internal struggle. Because this time around, Aster’s confronted with madness that reduces people to shells of their former selves. Worse than the madness is what causes it.

With such a heavy revelation changing the stakes of his adventure, Aster feels underpowered, so I’m hoping an upgrade for his power or equipment comes sooner rather than later. He’s not particularly good at being clever, though he makes the right calls when it counts. I was disappointed that the titular book seems to be merely notes (even if he really needs those notes), but perhaps hidden depths will surface later.

It’s also interesting that Aster is the only person who seems to be wondering what’s behind the villain’s motivations. There’s plenty enough to suggest “he’s just evil” would work fine, but Aster isn’t so convinced. Right now, though, there’s no way to dig into the whys.

I hope Erod shows up again. He and his people would make interesting allies (or bad enemies). I like how solid most of the secondary characters are in these books, even if the nature of the world-hopping plot has many of them leaving as fast as they show up.

Overall, this isn’t a bad continuation, but certainly darker than the previous. I will likely read the rest of the series soon, but I needed to take a bit of a break after reading this for something a bit lighter. I rate this book Recommended.

Angel Unaware (Threshold, prequel)

Title: Angel Unaware

Author: Christa Kinde

Series: Threshold (prequel to books 1-4)

Although Marcus is a cherub, he hasn’t had a typical life so far. Grafted from practically the moment he was found by a Caretaker, he’s lived for so long among humans he can think and act much more like one of them. He wants to be a warrior. He never expected to gain a human friend . . .

This is a prequel novel for the Threshold series, but is probably better to read after those four books (or at least, don’t read the epilogue until after, or most of it won’t make sense). It’s the story of how Marcus and Ransom met and became friends.

I always liked Ransom, and seeing him here, younger and less inhibited, is a real treat. It’s funny how his friendship with Marcus is almost more of Ransom deciding they were friends and Marcus not having the heart to push him away, because Ransom is as up in your face as ever. (Continuing a trend, Ransom’s guardian angel has a few of those same traits, which is also really funny.)

Which is not to say Marcus dislikes Ransom. He just has no idea why a non-Christian and an angel would be friends. And Marcus has no specific Sending one way or the other, so he has no direction for where to go with this.

I absolutely loved getting Marcus’s perspective on life. He’s not very verbal in his human disguise, and only somewhat more talkative around his mentor and his Flight, but he’s got a world of things going on inside. He’s at once completely relatable yet wonderful—embarrassed at his own shortcomings, wholehearted in his struggle to learn and improve, and above all driven by pure love to do what he can for those around him. And sometimes the hardest thing to do is trust that God’s plans for Ransom are good, even when Marcus has no indication things will ever work out.

And the book, like all of the Threshold books, is so funny. Some samples:

“He’s a cherub, Jedrick.” Aleff drummed his fingers on the motorcycle helmet. “Marcus was made for war. He wants to dress up in armor and bash at things with pointy sticks.”

Or:

“Your jacket?”
“Not as snazzy as, ‘Lo, I am with you always,’ but it has pockets.”

Overall . . . well, I read this book six times online before I managed to get a paper copy (and read it again). It’s a cute story with a lot of laughs, but also a lot of things that really pushed me to think more about why I believe what I believe, what that ought to mean, and what kind of impact it can have (or not have). And I adore stories about real life and faith that still have swords and flying and impossible surprises around every corner. Highly Recommended.

(If you want to read this online, the main text of the book can be found here: https://christakinde.wordpress.com/thresholds/angel-unaware/

However, the epilogue is exclusive to the print book, and provides answers to a lot of questions about where Marcus was during various moments in the Threshold books, and also provides a bit of new material.)

Aster Wood and the Lost Maps of Almara (Aster Wood #1)

Title: Aster Wood and the Lost Maps of Almara

Author: J.B. Cantwell

Series: Aster Wood #1

Aster Wood is devastated about spending the summer with his grandmother in the middle of nowhere. But his boring isolation becomes far too interesting when he accidentally travels to another world. Now if he wants to get back, he’s got to track down an ancient group who once traveled between the worlds looking for the cure to a sickness that’s suspiciously similar to what’s happening on Earth . . .

This was excellent. Aster is an engaging protagonist—a kid who wants to be typical. But his heart defect means he’s unable to do anything really active, and it’s made him cautious about anything that looks more strenuous than a walk. Which his adventure definitely requires. And when he stumbles over a possible cure, it complicates his decision about finding his way back home. Thankfully, he does have the ability to be physically active after he gets cured (which in itself comes with some interesting wrinkles).

I liked the way multiple worlds show up, and how they’re handled. I liked the mystery of the links and how I’m still not certain Aster made the right choice with one of them. And the wolf is amazing and needs to show up in some future book.

Besides all that, the pace is snappy. Aster never stays in one place long enough to get bogged down. The plot lingers just long enough over his initial transport and shock to really ground him in the new world, but he hasn’t got anything like all the answers. Which is really funny when he determines to destroy a certain rock.

Overall this is a great adventure, and I look forward to seeing how the story develops. I rate this book Highly Recommended.

To The Falls (The Falls Trilogy #1)

Title: To The Falls

Author:  Heather Renee

Series: The Falls Trilogy #1

Kali has just finished her sophomore year of college when her life turns upside-down. The strange dream she’s been having was actually supposed to be a sign pointing to another world, one that she’s originally from, and she’s inherited the duty to protect the passages between worlds. But someone doesn’t want her stepping into her destiny . . .

I probably shouldn’t have finished this, but it started well, so I kept going in the hopes it would turn itself around at least a little by the end.

The beginning actually is decent. Kali’s college life (and best friend Jordan) is set up well, and the normal life feels solid enough that it’s easy to see why Kali would push so hard against everything magical that tries to reshape her predictable world. Unfortunately, once she goes home for her birthday, the problems start to surface.

First, the book is rife with run-on sentences. A handful would have been annoying, but it feels like I hit at least one a page.

Second, the characters, with the exception of Kali and Jordan, are barely fleshed out. Lucas is the worst offender. As the main love interest, I expected him to have SOME glimmer of his own personality, but his entire character was built around being in love with Kali and doing whatever she wanted. He’s got a lot of history and backstory, and very little of that comes through. I wanted to see independent thought, even if he is saddled with finally finding his soulmate.

And yes, the whole soulmate angle takes away any possible complexity to the romance. You know you’ve found your soulmate because his eyes change color to match, plus the book of your life (which the Fates write in) will confirm it.

Third, the voice is inappropriate for anything but Kali narrating for herself. Here’s a sample section of the Fates:

We know you’re struggling Kaliah, but please have faith. All of this will make sense soon and you’ll be rewarded for your efforts. Trust your instincts and everything will be okay. Not everything is as it seems right now and we need your patience. We are watching out for you even if you don’t realize it.


It’s too casual to feel like it came from some all-knowing deity (not to mention a missing comma in the first sentence). Why have books at all? Why not have the Fates directly communicate with Kali? Having books that some deity writes in feels like a really weird way to push the plot forward. They basically cheat and tell Kali things she couldn’t otherwise know, which takes away any chance of tension since everyone knows the Fates don’t lie or make mistakes.

Fourth, the actual villain side is really disappointing. We have one major villain who is basically Mr. Maniacal Laughter who has a somewhat reasonable motive but terrible presentation (and is killed by lightness and goodness. I wish there had been a different way to describe this, or do it). Then we have a possibly more interesting wrinkle with the person who helped him . . . except the Fates underline all the answers as soon as the main characters even wonder about it, so that’s no good. And this person is an even less compelling villain.

Overall, this book feels like it really needed another draft to clean up the characters, events, and grammar. Not Recommended.

The Door in the Hedge

Title: The Door in the Hedge

Author: Robin McKinley

This is a collection of longish short stories, all with a fairy-tale feel.

The Stolen Princess – In the last mortal kingdom bordering the realm of the faeries, children go missing relatively often. When a princess is stolen, the balance begins to change between the two countries. This has a familiar setup, with a bit of a twist on the conclusion.

The Princess and the Frog – I liked this take on the princess, the jewels she drops, and the frog himself. It sets the tale in a more concrete kingdom, and brings in a seemingly unstoppable evil, and gives the princess more to do with the ending. It is a bit confusing, though, why the frog actually turns back into a human. It doesn’t seem what happened would have been something to break a curse.

The Hunting of the Hind – This one also takes elements of several fairy tales and weaves them together. A golden hind which drives men mad has struck down the prince, who vowed to stop it from affecting his people, and his little sister steps up to save him.

The Twelve Dancing Princesses – This is probably the best-known fairy tale of the set, and there aren’t any huge surprises here, except for the challenger being an old, retired soldier instead of a young and handsome prince. I liked this one best, because of the way the old soldier approaches life, and how he’s not swayed by the young and beautiful in quite the same way as everyone else. He feels more sorry for the princesses than anything, and even wonders if they want to be saved from their enchantment.

As much as I like these (and I have read this set before, though I can’t think if it’s been more than once), I don’t feel the same draw to them as some of the other books McKinley wrote. These are interesting stories with beautiful language, but they also leave me feeling like I’m done when I finish, rather than feeling like I want to go back and read them again.

Overall, though, it’s a quick read, and worthwhile if you’re at all a fan of fairy tales. I rate this book Recommended.